Stung again: Miscues continue to haunt Tigers

Detroit weathers two-plus unearned runs for fourth consecutive game

April 20th, 2024

MINNEAPOLIS -- For a second, the Tigers looked like they might have another comeback at Target Field. As Parker Meadows’ ninth-inning drive hung in the chilly air of the Twin Cities and carried toward right field, the suspense built in the crowd: The Tigers couldn’t do it again, could they?

Just as fans started looking toward the pavilion over right field, Manuel Margot began to slow his retreat around the warning track. He wasn’t looking back, only up at the ball he had camped under, a step in front of the wall.

The last out makes it easy to say the Tigers came within a few feet of extra innings. But the small margin was spread throughout the 4-3 loss to the Twins, inches here, inches there. And a lot of them came with the Tigers in the field.

The Twins won on three sacrifice flies and a run-scoring error from Spencer Torkelson. Two of the three sac flies plated runners that had advanced to third on miscues, from a ground ball under Torkelson’s glove to a Reese Olson wild pitch. Detroit had RBI hits in three consecutive innings, which was three more than Minnesota had, but couldn’t fully erase a gap that was at least partly self-inflicted.

“Gosh, I was ready for it, wanted it,” Torkelson said of the ball for his error. “Tough bounce, just didn’t make the play. I mean, that’s unacceptable. I need to be better. I will be better. …

“When you have a team over there that’s definitely not hitting well, you can’t give them free bases. They’re going to capitalize on them.”

Half of Minnesota’s runs were unearned, continuing a trend that began Wednesday. Before Torkelson’s error Saturday, there was the mixup in right-center field on Friday to erase Detroit's lead. Before that, the Tigers had back-to-back three-error games against Texas, including three unearned runs Thursday.

The Tigers have suffered two or more unearned runs in four consecutive games for the first time since August 24-27, 1989, when Detroit had five such games in a row while playing out the string of a 103-loss season. That was an older, less athletic team that made errors in bunches, including a five-error performance against the Red Sox and a three-game error streak for infielder Doug Strange.

This current team is better than that, and not just for being younger. Detroit ranked among the best teams in baseball in Outs Above Average and Defensive Runs Saved 10 days ago. The Tigers have fallen to ninth in OAA, according to Statcast, and entered Saturday sixth in DRS according to Sports Info Solutions, but they still make standout plays.

Javier Báez, who made a throwing error to advance a runner Saturday and missed another ball on a ground-ball single under his glove through the middle, erased the latter runner with a diving stop near second base and glove-hand flip to second base to start a double play. Riley Greene made a diving grab on Minnesota’s first sacrifice fly to keep the Twins to one second-inning run. Wenceel Pérez kept the Tigers within a run with a sliding catch in right field to strand two runners in the eighth.

Still, this group has made errors at inopportune times the past few days, and it has cost them with two one-run losses, a category in which Detroit has thrived this season.

“You always emphasize it,” manager A.J. Hinch said. “I mean, we’re not going to accept just mediocrity, but those are mistakes that happen during the game. You don’t have to play perfectly at this level, but it’s key. Obviously, it’s not focus, it’s not work, it’s not them not knowing, it’s not ranting by coaches. It’s just execution, and at this level, it gets exposed when you don’t execute.”

At times, it can also be players -- sensing the small margins the Tigers have had all season to date -- trying to make too much of a play. Torkelson sensed a chance at an inning-ending double play on his error with Alex Kirilloff running. Instead of taking a simple out at first and keeping runners at second and third, he got nothing.

“I think I fell into that trap a little bit, trying to do more, make that superhero play rather than just getting one out there, not rushing it and trying to get two,” Torkelson said. “Get back to the basics, get one out and then two is a bonus, I think that’s where we’re going to start.”